For the latest installment of Shift Diaries, we fly down to the City of Angels. It’s an industry town — showbiz is indeed an industry — but it’s also a sprawling landscape dotted with distinctive bars, from trendy rooftop spots to quiet hipster enclaves. With a range of such eclectic scenes, it’s only natural to wonder if they have any common threads. To find out, we talked to a quartet of bartenders from different areas of the city about their typical Friday night shifts. Here’s what they had to say:
Location: Neighborhood bar/coffee shop in Los Feliz
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A Friday night, although plenty busy and sometimes downright nuts, is always fun. It’s electric. Happy hour is 2-7 p.m., so when I get there at 4, it can be in full swing already. The other bartender and barback get in at 5, and we get to it. The last couple hours of happy hour are usually busy. If there’s a concert nearby, they’re really busy. Then there’s a moment to breathe a bit — maybe — and then we go until 10:30 p.m., which is last call. I love Friday nights because they get me into that sixth gear you have to shift into when it’s really busy. You’ve got regulars in front of you, guests waiting to order behind them, and endless tickets in the service well, which is usually where I live. And your partners are hustling hard too, so they can hardly look over to check in with you, though they do anyway because they’re your bud. Then when it’s all over, you just look at each other like, “Wow, what a night.” And no matter how many times it happens, it’s still a rush, and your friends behind and in front of the bar always have your back. I’m lucky. We all really do care about each other, and the camaraderie is unmatched. We’re a neighborhood bar, so we have incredible regulars that have become friends; friends that become regulars. There’s also a lot of film industry people that make it a regular hangout. But people are just people, regardless of fame, so everybody’s equal. Besides, pretension isn’t something we do well, and if we decide to, we make fun of ourselves in the process.
Location: Rooftop bar in West Hollywood
We usually have two bartenders and one bar back working each night. We always start our shifts with a cup of coffee, and then get started on making a list of what we need for prep, what we need to pull from the walk-in, and begin setting up the bar for service. We spend about an hour before opening cutting fruit and prepping garnishes, squeezing fresh juices, and polishing glassware. We also serve food with a downstairs restaurant, so we also have a pre-shift meeting with the full crew where the chef shares his specials for the evening, we find out what reservations are on the books, and we collectively map out our game plan for the night. As soon as we open, we execute our plan until we close. We definitely get a lot of early pre-theater business on the weekend, with folks looking for a one-of-a-kind dining and drinking experience before they head to their favorite show. Around 7 p.m. is when we typically see a big local rush — people on dates or dining with families, looking for a proper dining experience. After 8:30 p.m., we typically see an influx of diners heading down to the restaurant from the rooftop looking for a heartier dining experience until our last restaurant reservations, around 11 p.m. At the end of the night, we try to leave the bar in pristine condition — the better you leave the bar when you’re done, the smoother everything runs the next day.
Location: Italian restaurant bar in Hollywood
Total Tips: $220
Shift: After I clock in, the first thing I do is make sure that we are prepared for the night — this includes double-checking on what’s missing or what may have changed, re-stocking and preparing any garnishes or juices that are low with our barback, and then greeting and helping incoming guests. We will also check the reservations for the evening to get an idea of the flow throughout the night. We take our breaks and prepare for the dinner rush. On a Friday night, the rush tends to begin once people start getting off their 9 to 5s and drop in for a cocktail. We’re usually quite busy during the rush, making and shaking our handcrafted cocktails, going through the wine list with guests, and happily fulfilling any needs that may arise. Generally, most of our reservations are between 7-9 p.m., but the occupancy can sometimes last throughout the entire dinner service. At the end of the night, we ensure that our guests have been taken care of properly, then we’ll close down our wells and get our bar clean and ready for the next day. While our guests tend to be very knowledgeable foodies, we’re also in a very hidden location in a very busy area — a lot of people wouldn’t know we existed if it wasn’t for word of mouth. We really emphasize building an experience through quality service and excellent drinks — it’s the only way we can live up to whatever expectations they may have once they do find us.
Location: High volume cocktail bar in Chinatown
I typically like to arrive 45 minutes before my shift so I can visit the bar across the street from where I work. It is happy hour, and I like to start my night over a G&T and catch up with bartenders there. After the drink and some friendly gossip, it’s now 5:55 p.m — time to walk over to my bar and get ready to open. I disarm our alarm, meet our barback at the front door, and we walk in and get ready for the night to begin.
We put on Otis Redding or other classic Motown on the sound system and start setting up the floor. Once the floor is set, I start bottling the juices and modifiers needed for the night. It is a Friday night, so we will have both of the venue’s floors open. I set up all seven wells while our barback gets all the garnishes and fruit ready for each well. Two hours pass as if they’re minutes, and it’s now close to 8 p.m. Our security team and doorman enter, and I give them the game plan for the night — table reservations, party names, etc. — and then we open our doors up right at 8. That’s when our secondary shift of bartenders come in and start setting up their respective wells. We’ll see a flow of regulars walk through the doors, usually folks from the neighborhood, older, in their mid-30s to 40s. The pace is slow and easy. I’ll get asked to make a Bartender’s Choice the most often early on into the night. The regulars like to see what drinks/flavors I’ve been working on. It feels like a nice aperitif for making fun cocktails as I prepare for the young Weekend Warriors to come out to party later on. I make a Rob Roy riff with Thai tea and five-spice tonight. The guest approves; I’m happy.
By 10:30 p.m., our DJs are hitting their groove, the vibe is picking up, and the aforementioned Weekend Warriors come out and start to fill up the venue. The average age of patrons in the bar now is around 24 years old. “Seven shots of tequila,” says one group of friends. “Two Mexican Mules,” says another couple. “Five Palomas,” says another party. “You got it!” I reply. In Los Angeles, tequila is more popular than water right now but I’m not mad at it; I can crank out three or four orders at a time easily and everyone is happy. I’m just seeing dollar signs for the next few hours. The staff kicks into high gear smoothly. We’ve all been working together for years now (luckily we have a low turnover rate at our bar), and it’s become autopilot to get through the heavy waves of orders effortlessly.
As lead bartender, I have to break off around 1 a.m. and put on my manager-on-duty/floor manager hat to roam the floor to see how everything is looking. I game-plan with security to see the best way to close the night smoothly. We are a big venue, so being in sync with closeout procedures every night is vital. I tell our DJs to announce last call at 1:30 a.m. We have the lights up and stop serving by 1:40. We clear the house out at 1:45 a.m. and lock our doors. I ask the security team how many we had through the door tonight. They say 685 people. “A little slow tonight, but not bad,” I think to myself. I head back behind the bar to start cleaning my well and hand out to staff their well-deserved shift drinks — usually a shot and a beer for everyone as they continue to clean and count their money. It is now 3 in the morning, and I can start to feel the fatigue. I finish my beer and count my tips, which is a pretty decent amount for a slower night. I give my opening barback an extra 20 for a job well done. We all turn off the lights and arm the bar. Darkness and silence fill the bar, and we all leave. Outside, one of the bartenders pulls out a frisbee from his bag and we all get a game in before heading home. Playing frisbee helps everyone unwind as well as work off their shift drinks before safely driving home. It’s become a weekend tradition at this point. After the game, we say our goodbyes and I get in my car. I look at the clock: 4:45 a.m. “All in a day’s work,” I think to myself before driving home to do it all again in a few short hours.